Harford County Executive David R. Craig has launched his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor in 2014, betting that he can overcome the suspicions of the far right of his party and the Democrats' 2-1 voter registration advantage in Maryland.
The 63-year-old veteran officeholder made his announcement Monday before several hundred backers at a hall in Havre de Grace, the historic town on the Susquehanna River where he grew up and got his start in politics.
Craig denounced the record of Gov. Martin O'Malley, charging that the term-limited Democrat has raised 40 taxes and fees since taking office in 2007.
He promised to challenge the "political monopoly in Annapolis" and rein in the growth of government.
"It's not us, it's government that has lost its focus," Craig said. "Government that promises you more and more and more is probably failing us."
Craig became the first Republican contender to make his candidacy for governor official, but the field is likely to become more crowded.
Former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a commentator for MSNBC and a former Republican Party national chairman, said Monday that he is considering a run for the State House. Steele told MSNBC's Chuck Todd that he doesn't believe he needs to make up his mind until late this year.
Steele told MSNBC that he's "serious" about a potential run, though he acknowledged that "Maryland is a tough state" for Republican candidates.
"I think we can move the state in a different direction," Steele said. "Our economy is not competitive in the region anymore."
Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County is expected to announce his candidacy Wednesday, emphasizing his experience as a small-business owner. Blaine Young, Republican president of the Frederick County commissioners, said Monday that he expects to make an announcement about a possible run in August or September. There is also an active movement to draft Charles Lollar, a former Republican House nominee.
Craig promised a campaign that "stays away from petty attacks" and focuses on issues.
A former teacher and assistant principal, Craig told the gathering he would make education a key issue. He dismissed Maryland's ranking by Education Week as having the No. 1 schools in the nation — a proud boast of O'Malley and Democratic leaders of the General Assembly — as something "said by a trade publication and politicians."
"It has nothing to do with student achievement," he said
In an interview, Craig said he would look for ways to roll back some of the tax increases adopted since O'Malley became governor. He specifically pointed to the sales tax, which he said should be no higher than 5 percent, the level where it stood before it was increased to 6 percent in 2007.
To offset the tax cuts, Craig said he would impose a hard freeze on state spending. He said he would consider merging some departments, including those overseeing agriculture, natural resources and the environment.
Craig also said he would change the way the state collects a stormwater cleanup fee that some have derided as the "rain tax." He said he would prefer to set the fees based on the particular Chesapeake Bay tributary affected by a local jurisdiction rather than on the needs of the entire bay watershed.
Of the potential GOP candidates, Craig boasts the longest record in public office. Before being appointed in 2005 as county executive — a position to which he was elected in 2006 and 2010 — he served as councilman and mayor in Havre de Grace and as a delegate and state senator.
During his career, Craig has compiled a solidly conservative record — but not conservative enough for some in the Republican Party. In the run-up to his announcement, he became the target of an email campaign characterizing him as a "RINO" — for Republican in Name Only.
Nevertheless, Craig's brand of conservatism is solid enough to earn him the support of Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the GOP nominee for governor in 1994 and 1998 and a favorite of the party's right wing.